More than dozen hurt in blast at Beechcraft plant in Kansas
Wichita, Kan. – More than a dozen people were injured Friday when a nitrogen line ruptured at the Beechcraft aircraft manufacturing facility in Wichita, Kansas, causing part of the building to collapse, authorities said.
Daniel Wegner, deputy fire chief for Sedgwick County, said the explosion happened at around 8 a.m. at the facility, which is in the eastern part of the city. John Gallagher, the county’s emergency medical services director, said 11 people were taken to hospitals and four were treated at the scene. No one was killed, but one person has potentially serious injuries, he said.
Joel Schepis, who lives in a neighborhood west of the Beechcraft plant, told The Wichita Eagle that the explosion rattled his house and dust and debris fell through cracks in his ceiling.
“If you’ve ever been to an airshow, it sounded like a sonic boom,” he said.
The explosion was felt nearly 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to the northwest, The Eagle reported.
Eight of the injured people were taken to Ascension Via Christi St. Francis hospital, KAKE-TV reported. By early afternoon, four had been treated and released, three were in serious condition and one person was in critical condition.
Stephanie Harder, a spokeswoman for Beechcraft’s parent company, Textron Aviation, said that the company has accounted for all of the workers and visitors who were at the plant at the time of the explosion.
Wegner said the explosion happened when a 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) liquid nitrogen line ruptured. The rupture was contained, but gas continued to vent, although it posed no risk to nearby residents, officials said.
“The plant closed or shut down for the holiday season so the numbers that would have been here, were not, so it was a skeleton crew,” Wegner said.
The cause of the blast is under investigation.
The explosion comes at a difficult time for the aircraft industry in Wichita, which is a major sector of the Kansas economy.
Boeing announced that it would suspend production of its troubled 737 Max jetliner in January, forcing the state to consider helping to pay workers at Spirit AeroSystems, which produces the jet’s fuselages. And earlier this month, Textron Aviation announced that it would lay off an unspecified number of workers, most of them in Wichita.
Harder said the structure where the explosion happened is part of a complex of buildings and houses the business’ composite manufacturing and experimental aircraft.
“Difficult day. Difficult news,” she said.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is at the plant, said Sedgwick County Sheriff Jeff Easter. The state Fire Marshal’s Office and the local lodge of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers didn’t immediately respond to phone messages.